Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 17      June 4-10, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines











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Two of 11 Sagada-bound Backpackers Freed
Charges to be filed vs Benguet police

That two of the 11 backpackers detained by the police on suspicion of being New Peoples Army (NPA) rebels have been released is not welcome news to their parents and lawyers. Charges will still be filed against seven Benguet police officers. The 11 backpackers who are now called the Sagada 11 were said to be kicked, slapped, punched, humiliated, as well as threatened to be killed, electrocuted and buried alive.


LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Two teenage backpackers walked out of the Benguet provincial jail last May 30 with a promise to seek justice for what they and nine other friends went through in the hands of the police.

Frencess Ann Bernal, 15, and Ray Lester Mendoza, 16, were released on recognizance to their parents by Regional Trial Court Branch 64 Judge Agapito Laoagan Jr.

He acted on a May 19, 2006 motion to release by the Benguet prosecutors’ office which argued that Republic Act No. 9344 or the Juvenile Justice System Act authorizes the release of accused minors on recognizance to their parents or, in their absence, to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). RA 9344 took effect only last May 21.

As of this writing, Bernal’s and Mendoza’s nine other friends are still in jail. They are Rundren Berloize Lao, 24, of Davao City; Aldoz Christian Munoza, 18, of Santolan, Pasig City; Darwin Alazar y Padilla, 21, of Tipuso, Urdaneta City, Pangasinan; Arvie Nunez, 21, of Silang, Mayaw, Lucena City; Neil Russel Balajadia, 25, of Santolan, Pasig City; Jethro Villegas, 21, of Malagos, Calinan, Davao City; Anderson Alonzo, 18, also of Malagos, Calinan, Davao City; Ronron Pandino, 20, of San Quintin, Laguna; and Jefferson dela Rosa y dela Cruz, 20, of Santolan, Pasig City. Bernal is from Camupang, Marikina City while Mendoza is from San Francisco, Makati City.

They are now called by the media as the “Sagada 11.” They who went to Baguio to participate in the annual Baguio Flower Festival and proceeded to the Sagada last February 14 where they were arrested and detained by the police.

Bernal, an incoming high school junior, said she now wants to take up law so that she can help her friends seek justice. According to her, they were falsely accused of being New Peoples Army (NPA) rebels who attacked a military detachment almost four months ago in Mankayan town, Benguet.

The 11 backpackers were said to be kicked, slapped, punched, humiliated, as well as threatened to be killed, electrocuted and buried alive.

Yolanda Bernal, Frencess Ann’s mother, also promised that they will pursue the cases against the Benguet police officers so that others will not suffer the same fate. “Dapat pagbayaran nila ang kanilang ginawa sa mga anak namin,” (They should pay for what they did to our child.) she said.

Veteran human rights lawyer and Baguio
City councilor Jose Molintas insisted that the nine others should also be freed because the court already ruled that they were illegally arrested. Molintas is also a member of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).

Charges to be filed vs police officers

FLAG lawyers are set to file this week 11 counts of arbitrary detention against seven police officers which include Benguet Police Director Sr. Supt. Villamor Bumanglag who arrested the 11 Sagada-bound youth last February 14 and detained them for 52 hours.

Human rights lawyers Noe Villanueva and Joris Karl Dacawi, also of FLAG identified the six other police officers as Benguet-based 1604th Police Mobile Group chief Supt. Brent Madjako, Senior Inspector Joseph Paulo Bayongasan, Senior Police Officer 1 Alyson Kalang-ed, Police Officers 2 Jonathan Pucya, Wendell Baglao and James Ayan Jr.

Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code only allows law enforcement authorities a maximum of 36 hours to hold detainees.

The Benguet police admitted to Laoagan that the 11 were arrested at the checkpoint at around noontime last February 14. Charges of robbery with homicide were filed only last February 16 at around 5 pm, an action FLAG lawyers claimed as “a clear violation and a cause of legal action.”

Laoagan ruled that the arrest was illegal after finding that the police officers “had no personal knowledge of facts indicating that the persons had committed the offense,” FLAG national chairperson Pablito Sanidad said. “Actually, the moment the court ruled the arrest was illegal, is also the exact moment when the arbitrary detention was in effect.”

“Now, the police officers are more liable with Judge Laoagan’s ruling,” Villanueva and Dacawi said. “By virtue of that decision, there is already a judicial determination that the arrest is illegal, so charges for arbitrary arrest and detention are justified against the police officers,” Villanueva said.

The Revised Penal Code penalizes violators of Article 125 with a minimum jail term of one month to a maximum of six months, Dacawi said.

According to FLAG, six police officers will therefore be facing at least 35 cases before the Benguet prosecutor’s office and National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) while Bumanglag will be facing 24.

Last March, the 11 backpackers filed separate criminal cases against the police officers in the Benguet prosecutor’s office for violating their rights as detainees for not providing them lawyers while under interrogation.

They also filed another separate administrative complaint before the NAPOLCOM for grave misconduct, oppression and conduct unbecoming of a police officer for the alleged torture on them.

In addition, Bernal and
Mendoza filed separate child abuse cases against the seven police officers.

Help From Malacañang and Davao Local Government

Meanwhile, Sanidad said that even a Malacañang official and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte called him up regarding the case of the 11 backpackers.

He bared that a Malacanang official called him up asking for case updates. He opined that the Palace must have felt the pressure exerted even by the international community.

Duterte’s office also called Sanidad last week asking on how they can help in the
plight of Davaoeños Lao, Villegas, and Alonzo. A certain Major Adalin from his office also offered help for the three.

The families of Lao, Villegas and Alonzo are residents of a barangay adjacent to a mlitary camp in Davao City. Sanidad said that there are people willing to testify that the three are not NPAs. Bulatlat

Related article:
‘Sagada 11’: Nightmare in Jail 



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